In his rambling introduction to “A Pony For Victor Jara”, Apostle of Hustle mastermind Andrew Whiteman suggested that the crowd at the Fox Theatre visualize the following: “There’s a Pony Express rider. He’s galloping through the desert at a speed unknown previously to the Pony Express. In his bag, instead of mail, he’s got 80 pounds worth of marijuana. He’s hopped up on mescaline—and his pony’s hopped up on mescaline too. In one outstretched arm, he’s got the decapitated, bloody head of George W. Bush. In the other hand he’s got the head of Stephen Harper.” At the mention of this last name, Whitehead noticed the blank stares. “That’s the current prime minister of Canada,” he helpfully informed the crowd of bewildered Boulderites.
Yes, Whiteman and his band come from the Great White North, where the singer-songwriter is better known as a founding member of that ever-expanding Canuck collective Broken Social Scene. Is the world tired of BSS side projects yet? There are, after all, about a million of them—or at least it feels that way at times. We might indeed be tired of the onslaught, if not for the diversity and generally high quality of the sounds coming out of the scene.
Apostle of Hustle shares some of the anthemic qualities of Broken Social Scene, but Whiteman’s musical vision is his own, combining tight, melodic indie rock with distinctly Latin rhythms and song forms. The closest comparison here is probably Calexico, but where that band is dusty and loose, Apostle of Hustle’s sound is cosmopolitan and grooving. Onstage at the Fox, the focus was on the rhythm, as the drummer and percussionist laid down sinuous samba beats that propelled Whiteman’s wry vocals and surprisingly virtuosic guitar heroics to frequently astonishing heights. The band’s 45-minute set was all over the map—but winningly so.
Apostle of Hustle might have stolen the show from the headliner—had not they been opening for Andrew Bird. As he wandered innocuously onstage the orchestral-indie institution was greeted like a conquering hero. It seems to be de rigeur to note how very talented Mr. Bird is; indeed, the dude standing behind me did so throughout the show: “So fucking talented,” he muttered between songs to no one in particular, half awestruck, half envious. “So… fucking… talented.”
To be fair, Bird is a gifted guy. He’s a classically trained violinist! He can sing like Jeff Buckley! He can whistle like Jiminy Cricket! He can loop all kinds of instruments into one big orchestral swell! He’s pretty handsome (OK, not actually a talent, but still worth noting)!
Ah yes, about that looping thing. All the songs played at the Fox began with Bird and drummer Martin Dosh hunched over various effects pedals, drums, glockenspiels, violins, and keyboards for several minutes, creating elaborate walls of sounds and rhythms. It was impressive at first, kinda cool after a few songs, and sorta boring as the night wore on.
The show really took off when the songs actually started up and there was some interaction between Bird and Dosh (not to mention a slightly underused bassist). Once they were properly built from the ground up, Bird’s soaring vocals and elegant melodies gained muscle and immediacy over the sometimes-precious studio versions. Drawing mainly from his last two albums, The Mysterious Production of Eggs and recently released, far more rock-orientated effort Armchair Apocrypha, Bird and Co.’s 90-minute set at times felt too big for the Fox’s cozy confines. Of course, that’s not a bad thing: the rapturous crowd response suggests that the talented Andrew Bird won’t be playing clubs for much longer.